Cllr Wendy Thompson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Wolverhampton City Council.
Many people will have noticed the fantastic success that Wolves are currently experiencing in the Premier League. This has helped to give a much-needed boost to people’s optimism in Wolverhampton.
Unfortunately, our Premier League team is not being matched by a Premier League city council. The City of Wolverhampton is facing problems that aren’t too unfamiliar in other parts of the country – a struggling High Street with too many empty shops, an unemployment rate that is way above the national average, and a council that is reducing services at the same time as increasing council tax bills.
This is the consequence of having a Labour-controlled city council for most of the last 40 years. And this has created a sense of apathy amongst Wolverhampton residents. A feeling that their vote in the local elections counts for nothing, as the result is always the same – Labour retain control of Wolverhampton Council. In fact, in recent years turnout has been as low as 19 per cent in one ward in the city.
People are rightly fed up of the incompetence and the waste and mismanagement of their money. For a start, local Conservative councillors recently discovered that by next year, Labour will have wracked up £1 billion of debt for the city. That’s almost £10,000 of debt per household. On top of that, they have massively overspent on numerous projects across the city. The refurbishment of the city’s most popular entertainment venue, the Civic Halls, is now £24 million over budget because the council didn’t conduct adequate surveys right at the beginning.
And when it comes to council services, Labour are once again failing residents. They have cynically cut bin collections to fortnightly and introduced a £35-a-year charge for collecting garden waste, at the same time as spending £2 million on their communications department. The rollout of these changes have caused complete chaos and confusion right across the city – with bins left unemptied for weeks over Christmas and New Year, and flytipping continuing to blight our communities.
Plus with the Labour Leader of the Council standing down this May after 15 years in charge, there is a real danger of a hard-left Momentum takeover of the city.
But the local Conservatives are offering a positive alternative and a change of direction that our city desperately needs. We want to see our city centre thrive, and support local jobs and businesses. That’s why we are calling for free city centre parking at weekends, so that residents are encouraged to shop locally instead of elsewhere. This would hopefully start to turn around the tide of shop closures.
We are pledging to restore weekly bin collections and free garden waste collections – and we are very pleased with Michael Gove’s recent announcement that he will consult on plans to radically overhaul bin collection services right across the country. We’ve also identified a number of significant savings which would help put the council back on a sustainable footing, and allow us to invest more into the core frontline services that councils provide.
For example, we would reduce the number of councillors from 60 down to 40, saving at least £190,000 a year. We would also move to all-out elections once every four years, saving £200,000 a year. And we would curb the £2 million budget that the council spends on its communications team. A local authority’s first duty is to its residents, not to promoting itself through glossy press releases and marketing material.
We have had fantastic support from our Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who since his election has worked tirelessly to increase business investment in Wolverhampton. Our bustling train station is finally getting rebuilt, and will connect to the extended Midlands Metro tramline which runs all the way to Birmingham New Street. He has also secured a major new development close to the city centre which will see over 1,000 new homes built along with new shops and restaurants.
Campaigning out on the doorstep ahead of polling day on 2nd May, we are getting some incredibly positive feedback and support for our policies. People are clearly fed up of seeing Wolverhampton fall behind other parts of the West Midlands and the wider country. They have seen private investment in the city dry up over the years, and have watched the unemployment rate remain stubbornly high – whilst the rest of the UK has record low levels. And they have had little incentive to support the High Street, with a Labour council unwilling to introduce free weekend parking.
Despite the shenanigans in Westminster, local Conservatives in Wolverhampton are getting on with the job of speaking up for our residents and advocating a brighter, more positive future for our city. We have the ideas and the vision, and between now and 2nd May we will be talking to as many people as possible and explaining to them that things don’t have to continue as they have done for too long under Labour. There is an alternative to the decades of decline that we have experienced, and with their vote the Conservatives can be a strong and effective voice for every Wulfrunian.